Mangialardo FrontLast year, we tipped you off to Taqueria Nacional, Ann Cashion’s Mexican carryout whose limited hours justify a sick day just to check them out.  This time, we’re here to clue you in to some of the best Italian sandwiches you’ll find inside the District.  You just need to be able to get there by 3 PM on a weekday if you want to try them yourself.

Mangialardo & Sons has been in the sandwich-making business for more than fifty years now.  What started as a typical Italian general store (picture A. Litteri with less floor space) has since edited its offerings significantly.  There are a few products for sale on the shelves that line the walls, but Mangialardo’s is now a sub shop, first and foremost. 

Walk in and take a deep breath – if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a whiff of the marinara sauce they use for the meatball and pizza sandwiches.  Head over to the coolers that line the right-hand wall – in among the sodas and other beverages you’ll see classic sides like macaroni salad and cole slaw as well as some more authentically Italian offerings like olives and stuffed peppers.

But enough dawdling – you’ve come for the sandwiches, piled high with cold cuts and bearing names like the “G-Man” and the “Super Sub.”  The names may be unique to Mangialardo’s, but the flavors are the ones you’ve come to expect in classic Italian deli sandwiches up and down the East Coast. 

So what makes them worth a special trip?  Find out after the jump.

Mangialardo

Photo by James M. Thresher for the Washington Post

For some people, history alone is enough to make a place like Mangialardo & Sons a destination.  It was really eye-opening to read the transcript of an interview with Joe Mangialardo, whose father opened the shop back in 1953.  These kinds of stories help those of us who haven’t lived in Washington our whole lives to get a much richer picture of DC’s history.

But for those of us with a taste for Italian sandwiches, it takes more than just history to make a sandwich worth a trip.  You have to start with the right meats.

Yeah – meats.  Plural.  There’s no such thing as a great Italian sandwich made with just one meat (even meatballs are usually made with a combination of beef, pork and/or veal).  You’ve gotta see salami, pepperoni, capicola, prosciutto and a handful of even more obscure deli meats fighting it out for dominance to know you’ve got a winner on your hands.

At Mangialardo (the name roughly translates to “eat fat” in Italian, so you know it’s going to be a good time), the sandwiches come piled high with their respective combinations of meats.  On the cold cut sub, the more basic of the two best-sellers, you get a stack that includes ham, bologna, salami, and mortadella.  Add some piquant provolone cheese to the mix, and you’ve got the makings of a fine meal.  Throw the aforementioned cold cuts on a Catania Bakery hard or soft roll, top them with lettuce, tomato, onion, hot peppers and oil & vinegar and you’ve got a work of art.  The G-Man adds a few more players to the mix, including pepperoni and fontina.

Even hungrier than that?  If you’re looking to satisfy a super-sized appetite (or a tapeworm), you might want to go for the “Super Sub” or the “Big G,” which are essentially double-sized versions of the Cold Cut and the G-Man, respectively.  You’re practically begging for an afternoon food coma if you even come close to polishing these big guys off.

Mangialardo SideEach sandwich I’ve enjoyed from Mangialardo’s has been a powerhouse of flavors, but the impressive thing is how well they all come together to create one smooth, mellow taste.  I know they’re not for everyone, but the hot peppers really do provide just the right vinegary high notes to balance out the saltiness of the meats, the borderline sweetness of the cheese and the dense crumb of the bread.  Too many sandwiches out there get the balance wrong, overloading on meat or dousing the sandwich with dressing in an effort to disguise sub-par ingredients.  Thankfully, these guys get it right.

Mangialardo & Sons is a great reminder of the kinds of places that used to exist throughout Washington – it’s a dying breed and it’s worth a visit to see what small, local shops can accomplish when they focus on doing one thing right for the better part of fifty years.  It doesn’t hurt that you can get out of there with a filling sub that delivers on flavor, a side and a drink for less than $10.

Mangialardo & Sons
1317 Pennsylvania Ave., SE
Washington, DC
Mangialardo & Sons on Urbanspoon